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Extended family gathers to mourn loss of man struck and killed by racing car

In a small, red-shuttered house in Prince George's County, a family is in mourning.

Relatives of Chelliah Johnson -- a husband, father and brother who was killed Sunday evening in a hit-and-run in Laurel -- gathered yesterday to grieve the loss of their loved one and wonder that someone could be so reckless about human life.

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Police have no suspects in the incident, in which witnesses saw two cars racing along Route 198, one of which struck Johnson and sped away.

"They took his life just to win a stupid race," James Johnson, 12, the victim's son, said yesterday as friends and extended family gathered at their Riverdale home to support the widow, Annamma Johnson, and her two sons.

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Relatives described their disillusionment in response to the crime.

"It's a human life," said Amutha Ramanathan, a family friend who regarded Johnson, 53, as an older brother and who is known as "auntie" to his children. "Everybody has to die sooner or later, but this was not the right way to die -- I don't even wish my enemy to die like that."

Ramanathan referred to Johnson with an Indian word for big brother, and others said they called him that, too.

"He's a very good friend -- like my own brother," said Sulaiman Mohammed, who knew Johnson before he and Johnson moved to this country from India in the early 1980s.

The two served in the army together in India and had remained good friends for 33 years. "He's a person like, once you meet him one time, you're friends for life," Mohammed said.

Ramanathan and Mohammed spent time yesterday driving with Annamma Johnson to make funeral arrangements.

Annamma Johnson remained quiet in her grief, but her sister, Theresa John, said Chelliah Johnson had been a family man who took good care of his children. He often would take his children to their athletic matches, such as the baseball games they played with their church team, John said.

"He was a very nice father; he loved his children," she said.

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Johnson worked as the front desk manager at the Red Carpet Inn in Laurel, down the street from where the accident occurred. He had been working there for about two months, family said.

His previous job was as a garage manager for the Embassy Row Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.

He left that job in March, then spent two months in India getting herbal skin treatment for an allergy. Because of his new job, he was unable to accompany the family on a trip to Florida this week.

Nine family members were vacationing Sunday night, about to leave for a cruise the next morning, when they received the news of his death.

Police said Johnson was struck about 9 p.m. Sunday as he was crossing the street to pick up Chinese food for himself and a co-worker.

The suspected cars are Acura Integras, one dark and one light.

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"We still don't know if it was one car or both, but we're leaning toward one," said Lt. Joseph Jordan of the Anne Arundel County police.

Police say one or both cars are likely to have suffered extensive front-end damage, which may include a broken windshield, headlight or tinted headlight cover.

Family members and police are asking for witnesses to come forward with more details.

Family members say they expect that human dignity will lead someone to come forward with information.

"Whoever did it, I don't want them to be a coward -- just come out and face the fact," Ramanathan said. "Because two children are now fatherless."

Police said anyone with information should call 410-222-8610.


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